Sunday, March 2, 2008

Madness is Here

If Duke and Georgetown winning close games wasn’t satisfying to you as a fan, you can always take solace that the true emotion of March was happening elsewhere.

-UNC Asheville hadn’t won at Winthrop in 10 years, but they went on the road, defeated the Eagles, and stole a share of the Big South title. Moreover, thanks to a sweep of Winthrop, UNC Asheville will be the 1 seed in the Big South tournament.

-Davidson went to second place Georgia Southern, won by 20, and capped a perfect Southern Conference season.

-Cornell blew out Harvard and clinched the Ivy League title early. They earned the first auto bid to the NCAA tournament and ended the Penn/Princeton streak in impressive fashion.

-American University defeated Lafayette, and thanks to a Navy loss, clinched the Patriot league title. American may not have clinched an auto-bid like Cornell, but the regular season title still means a lot. Head coach Jeff Jones had to hold back tears in a post-game interview as he explained how proud he was of his team.

Meanwhile, Senior day was happening across the country. I really can’t do all the events justice, but I’ll mention two.

-Minnesota lost to Ohio St. by 16 in the first meeting of the season, and they hosted the Buckeyes on senior day. But senior Lawrence McKenzie refused to lose on Saturday. He scored 20 points in the second half and led his team to a 14 point win. The Gophers had not defeated an RPI top 100 team all year, but in the final home opportunity, McKenzie made sure his team picked up their biggest victory of the year.

-But while a senior playing at his best is exciting on senior day, a senior with great memories is all the more emotional. As Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas made their final walk onto the Patriot Center floor earlier in the week, the fans saluted not just two great seniors, but also the greatest Cinderella run of all time. Yes, Campbell and Thomas both scored in double figures and earned a CAA tournament bye, but the chance to cheer the Final Four memories, was even more emotional.

ACC Madness is Back
No sooner did I complain that the ACC was becoming boring than they responded with one of the most exciting days of the season with 3 of 4 games going down to the wire. For the record, the ACC started out with 22 of the first 43 games decided by 3 points or less or overtime, but then things got dull with only 6 of the next 36 games decided by 3 points or less or overtime prior to Saturday. The total is now 31 of 83 games decided by 3 points or less or overtime.

According to Ken Pomeroy’s article last month, the ACC needed 33 close games to set a record for the most close games in the last decade. They now only need 2 close games in the final 13 conference games to set that modern record for drama in a season. Let’s finish up strong ACC!

Road Wins build Character
It’s always hard to win on the road. Texas Tech has been average this year, but they’ve only lost once at home. And they took out Texas in dramatic fashion. But what you saw Saturday was some very good teams who refused to lose on the road, no matter what the circumstances.

North Carolina saw Boston College’s Tyrese Rice make 8 three pointers and score 34 points in the first half, but didn’t flinch. The Tar Heels went on a 22-3 run to eliminate an 18 point deficit, and beat BC by 10.

Duke trailed NC State by 13, but didn’t flinch. The Blue Devils took the lead in the final minute, and used perfect time management to keep NC State from getting a good shot at the end.

Georgetown trailed Marquette by 11, turned the ball over 20 times, and trailed by three in the final seconds. But Jonathon Wallace went to the line, and didn’t flinch, knocking down three free throws to sent the game to overtime where the Hoyas won.

Pittsburgh trailed Syracuse by 11 with 4 minutes to go, but Sam Young didn’t flinch. All he did was steal the ball and flip it to Keith Benjamin who made a lay-up to cap a last second victory.

I’m always amazed at the end of the game when announcers say a team needs to foul to make a comeback. Sure, comebacks happen that way sometimes, but the real comebacks, the real jaw-dropping comebacks, all involve multiple steals, not fouls. For Pittsburgh to come back, they didn’t need to send Syracuse to the line, they needed to take the ball away, and they did.